E goes up as an undergraduate in a couple of weeks. He didn’t manage to get a place in Hall, and the prospect of him spending his first year in digs was somewhat daunting. I had visions of an insanitary Young Ones-style flat, but student accommodation these days is considerably more recherché than it used to be. A trawl of student lettings websites came up with some truly palatial purpose-built apartments.
Even the ‘shared houses’ have gone way, way up in the world:
Very nice. Lucky lads and lasses, these privileged ones. Rob Mitchell, Calderdale’s Principal Social Worker (of the Year 2015, no less), taking his own son up for the first time, was also mulling over chance, privilege and good fortune:
Sara Ryan, who has more right than most to an opinion, replied, “You don’t. You just hope with all your heart.”
Mark Neary’s son, Steven, is also in search of somewhere new to live, as his ‘secure temporary’ housing is due to be demolished early next year for redevelopment. In Steven’s case, though, the search is complicated by his autism, which means that his potential choices are restricted to social housing.
Mark has been bidding for every available social housing property for which Steven might be eligible (very few, as it turned out) and was getting close to despairing of finding something suitable before Demolition Day, when he was offered a direct allocation of a flat for Steven in “an exclusive and stylish new collection of studio, one and two bedroom apartments set within the leafy suburb of Cowley, Uxbridge, surrounded by picturesque parks and plenty of idyllic countryside walks … the perfect combination of peaceful countryside living within a town environment.”
A walk past the place and a peer-through-the-ground-floor-windows inspection confirmed that it was nearly ready for occupation, with carpets and white goods already installed. The mock-ups of the flat interiors suggested that these affordable flats, like the student ones, could be positively luxurious. Mark was overjoyed to accept the offer.
So maybe Rob is too cynical? People with autism, like their student contemporaries, get offered modernity and comfort suited to their needs?
The keys were due to be handed over to the Housing Association five weeks later. Five days before that, Mark found out – quite by chance – that there was a hitch. Nobody could quite say what, though later rumour suggested major problems with the electrical installation. But the upshot was that to be sure of getting Steven a new place to live before he became homeless, Mark had to go back to bidding for other, non-direct-allocation housing.
Steven was offered first refusal on another flat – except he wasn’t, because Mark had to make the decision for him before there was time for Steven to see the place. It wasn’t right for Steven, and with much trepidation, Mark turned it down.
The next flat was the right size and in the right place, but, said the Housing Manager, a bit of a mess. That proved to be an understatement. Mark considered it a ‘pigsty’; I think RSPCA officers might have condemned it as unfit even for pigs.
Mark is swearing off hoping. Hope, the one thing left in Pandora’s box, and the only thing that wasn’t a curse. Yet in the face of inevitable let-down, hope can be a curse, one that dooms a person to make poor decisions, or renders them unable to call out wrongs, or causes irretrievable delay as hope prevents action. And don’t think you can escape by abandoning hope: the sneaky blighter will turn and rend you with claws of guilt for giving up.
Looking at pictures of the flat, you can see exactly why Mark renounced hope, even before Hillingdon Council declared that Steven was expected to move in immediately; and refused to let Mark have time, permission or a rent-holiday to do the flat up to suit Steven’s needs and tastes.
And no, I don’t think Rob Mitchell is taking too sour a view of matters social care. If anything, he’s understating the case.